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Sen. Tom Cotton says ‘no place for racist critical race theory in US military’ in new op-ed

Soldiers from Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division Combat Aviation Brigade. (Michael Greenlar | syracuse.com/TNS)
April 02, 2021

Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton denounced critical race theory as “racist” in a Thursday op-ed for the National Review, and called to ban critical race theory from U.S. military training.

In an op-ed titled “There’s No Place in America’s Military for Racist Training” Cotton wrote, “Critical race theory threatens the U.S. military’s mission of defending in combat the Constitution and our way of life from enemies who would destroy and subjugate us.”

Cotton’s op-ed comes a week after he introduced legislation known as the Combatting Racist Training in the Military Act, to prohibit the U.S. military “from promoting racist theories, most notably Critical Race Theory.” Prior to serving in the Senate, Cotton served two combat tours as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and earned a Ranger Tab.

“When President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the military in 1948, he invoked the United States’ commitment to ‘equality of treatment and opportunity for all’ as his reason for doing so,” Cotton wrote for National Review. “Unfortunately, more than 70 years after Truman’s executive order, racist and un-American ideas of unequal treatment are creeping back into the Armed Forces under the guise of so-called critical race theory.”

Throughout his op-ed, Cotton criticized critical race theory, which he said “repudiates the principle of equality under the law that is articulated in the Declaration of Independence and that has motivated civil-rights reformers for generations.”

Cotton wrote that critical race theory claims the American ideal is “a sham used by the white majority to oppress racial minorities” and that as such “America is racist to its core.”

“[Critical race] theory concludes that the only way to end perceived discrimination against racial minorities is to systematically discriminate on their behalf — to fight fire with fire, so to speak,” Cotton wrote. “As Ibram X. Kendi, a leading agitator for critical race theory, wrote, ‘The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.'”

Cotton noted Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday’s decision to keep Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist” on the Navy’s official reading list, despite pushback from some Republican lawmakers. Cotton noted the Navy’s Second Fleet also created a book club for sailors to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, “a book that claims white people are inherently racist, whether consciously or subconsciously, and that race is the insidious subtext for virtually all human interactions.”

“By promoting critical race theory, the military is peddling ideological poison that will degrade the cohesion and combat effectiveness of its troops,” Cotton wrote. ” . . . We need to teach our young troops, as I was taught by sergeants and officers of many different races, to befriend, fight alongside, and, if necessary, die for their comrades on the battlefield — not to obsess about skin color. Likewise, we need to teach them to revere the Constitution that they swore to protect and defend — not to believe it’s part of a multigenerational racist conspiracy.”

Cotton spent the remainder of his op-ed promoting the legislation to ban various racist theories from being taught or embraced by the U.S. military. Among the list of theories Cotton’s bill prohibits the military from endorsing are:

  1. Any race is inherently superior or inferior to any other race.
  2. The United States is a fundamentally racist country.
  3. The Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution are fundamentally racist documents.
  4. An individual’s moral worth is determined by his or her race.
  5. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  6. An individual, because of his or her race, bears responsibility for the actions committed by members of his or her race.

Cotton’s bill would also prohibit the military from using theories or materials “that advocate such theories in curricula, reading lists, seminars, workshops, trainings, or other educational or professional settings in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.” Cotton said his bill does not prevent individuals from accessing materials that contain such theories on their own, or exercising lawful and protected speech. The bill also would not prohibit the military from “describing these theories or assigning works that advocate such theories in educational contexts that make clear the military does not sponsor, approve, or endorse them.”

The bill would also prohibit the military from hiring speakers, consultants or trainers that advocate the aforementioned theories, and prohibits the military from compelling service members to affirm or profess beliefs in such theories. The military would also be prohibited from segregating service members or other individuals by race in any setting, including for training or educational purposes.

In September, Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, at President Donald Trump’s direction, ordered the discontinuation of government employee training based on critical race theory. Trump also established the 1776 Commission which he said was intended to pushback against the rise in popularity of critical race theory in the education system and “restore patriotic education” to U.S. public schools.

In his first executive order, President Joe Biden revoked ended the 1776 Commission in an executive order titled “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” Biden’s executive order also revoked the Trump-era order barring critical race theory training in the federal government.